By Mary Cucarola – 3/2/21

“Love yourself enough to set boundaries.  Your time and energy are precious.  You get to choose how you use it.  You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept. ~Anna Taylor

My cell phone rang again on a very early cold morning as the snow was falling hard in big, wet flakes. I was living in Telluride at the time and the phone call woke me up because I am a light sleeper. I had already talked to my drunk son once that night, a couple of hours before. He was angry at me for always trying to “change” him – he claimed that “he liked the taste of liquor and planned to continue drinking a lot of it”.

I had a full schedule of work to do starting in about four hours – it was tax season, and I was an active CPA at the time.  I barely had any sleep over the past couple of weeks because my son was on a bender, and I was very busy with my work. I made the hard decision to turn the ringer off and go back to sleep.

From that night forward, I turned my cell phone off at night for good.

Not to punish my son, but to take care of my own needs and get some sleep.  I constantly worried about him and answering his phone calls usually upset me even more.  I worried I might miss an emergency, but concluded, right or wrong, that there were others in his life besides me he could call if needed.

Watching someone you love get trapped in the devastation of addiction is excruciatingly painful. You want to help but you don’t know the right way. You continue to clean up the messes because you think it will help and make their life easier for them, while it makes your life harder. It’s very easy to get stuck on their emotional roller coaster with them. Learning to show compassion and kindness to yourself is crucial in setting healthy boundaries and an important part of self-care.

What are boundaries?  Boundaries are guidelines you establish to protect your own well-being, not to punish others. There is a clear place where you begin and the other person ends. Healthy boundaries draw lines in the sand to make sure you are not taken advantage of by others.

Setting boundaries requires some uncomfortable conversations, but being frank and honest is key. You need to let the person know that for the sake of your own health, you can’t continue to condone the bad behavior.

After a boundary has been set it is important it is kept, otherwise, it will become meaningless.  If you establish a boundary that you won’t let a loved one get drunk around you, but later allow them to do so, then you will not be taken seriously.  A lack of boundaries may indicate you don’t have a strong identity or are over-involved with your loved one.

Below are a few boundaries that are easy to set and will be helpful to you and your loved one.  Start small and then move up to the harder ones when you are ready. As Glennon Doyle writes in Untamed “we can do hard things.”

  • Turn Your Phone Off at Night

You need to get some sleep and rest for your own mental and physical health. Chances are they won’t even remember what they said during the late-night phone calls anyway.

  • Can’t Use or Drink Around You

You need to communicate this clearly to them that you don’t want them to drink of use around you or your children. Tell them you want to spend time with them but not if they are under the influence.

  • Don’t Pay Off Their Bills

If your loved one owes money to creditors, friends, family, or anyone else and you pay it off for them, they will learn they can count on you to get them out of financial trouble, no matter what they do. This is not healthy for either one of you and can end up hurting you both.

  • Don’t Lend or Give Them Money

Never give money to someone who is addicted, even if they say it is for food or other basics.  It will enable them to continue drinking or using in their active addiction.

  • Don’t Bail Them Out of Jail

Unless they are going directly to residential treatment from jail, don’t bail them out. They need to face the consequences of their actions before they are willing to change.  Legal problems are their responsibility, not yours.

  • Don’t Lie or Cover for Them

Calling in sick for your loved one, making excuses for them, or lying for them for reasons caused by their addiction doesn’t allow them to suffer any consequences. They will continue to ask you to do these things if you are willing to cover for them. You are depriving them of some valuable life lessons.

  • Don’t Put Up with Abusive Behavior

If your loved one is degrading or yelling at you, let them know you won’t tolerate the behavior and remove yourself from the situation.  Seek help if they become violent and don’t sacrifice your own safety to preserve the peace.

If the motivation to establish boundaries is to solve a person’s addiction problem, it won’t work.  Boundaries are established to protect your well-being and to make sure you are not enabling the destructive behavior of your loved one. Rather than foster resentment, you can try to set and communicate healthy boundaries, one small step at a time.

After I started turning off my phone at night, my son stopped calling me then. He didn’t stop drinking or using drugs.  He didn’t stop calling me during the day.  But I began to understand by setting this one small boundary how important it was for me to take care of myself amidst the chaos.

Mary Cucarola – 3/2/21

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